Life on the razor’s edge

This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/06/01/1054406072441.html
June 2 2003

The label on my shaving cream describes a product with almost magical properties. Its fatuous promises and pseudo-scientific excesses are staggering. “Unique microcapsule Dual Delivery System protects and lubricates skin throughout the shave giving excellent razor glide.” Furthermore, it guarantees a “pain- free shave”, which will leave my skin “super cool and refreshed”. At least, I think that’s what it says. My eyes are still watering from the sting of the shaving cream.

The world of men’s shaving products has gone mad. From the advertising campaigns, it’s increasingly hard to tell the difference between a razor and a piece of super-charged military hardware. Even the shaving lotion ads sound like propaganda.

Over the years, razors have ceased being merely blades for hacking away at whiskers. Razors are now “shaving systems” and they’re marketed like the latest gadget from your friendly neighbourhood arms dealer. Hell, they don’t even call them blades any more – “flexible micro fins that deliver unprecedented shaving closeness”. With its independently suspended, triple-blade comfort edge, advanced indicator and lubricating strip, this isn’t shaving – this is warfare. Shock and Awe for your jaw.

Television ads feature athletic, military types, flying jet aircraft, their square chins as slippery-smooth as Teflon. Shaving isn’t just a daily drag: with the right product, you’ll be tall, you’ll be aggressively masculine and you’ll get laid twice a day. The razor has been glamorised and fetishised out of all proportion. It’s the ultimate James Bond gadget.

This marketing strategy may be ridiculous, but it clearly works. Last year, Gillette made $US893 million ($A1.35billion) just from their blades and razor sales. This figure was 16per cent up on the previous year. Much of this is attributable to the popular MACH3 razor, which Gillette boasts is the “most advanced shaving system in the world”.

This redoubtable razor is protected by 35 patents, and is probably the most extreme example of technological overkill. Even the MACH3 handle is a design miracle, featuring “knurled elustomeric crescents” for “better handling”!

New products come and go like pop stars. For 20 years, I have vainly pursued a decent shave, and I have come to the conclusion that there are only two types of razor – the diabolical (disposable) and the dastardly (all the others). Yet I keep turning up to the shaving section in aisle six of my supermarket in the futile hope that the latest flashy product will provide the answer to my prayers. Is there something fundamentally wrong with me? Is all this ever-escalating razor arms race a form of brainwashing?

Internet sites offer masses of tips and remedial assistance for frustrated blade shavers. Mostly, they argue that successful shaving, like climbing Everest, all comes down to the right equipment and a faultless technique. Having tried every blade on the market, and every cream and lotion from sorbolene to KY jelly, I can only assume that it’s my technique that sucks.

An English shaving site offers this advice for the perfect shave: first, apply a compress of steaming hot towels to your face. Follow this with a light application of hair conditioner, underneath a deftly applied layer of shaving cream. Shave in short strokes with the direction of hair growth, rinsing the razor after each stroke in a lukewarm preparation of water infused with tea tree oil. Now repeat the process, this time shaving against the direction of hair growth. The entire ritual takes just under an hour to achieve, so thanks for the tip, guys, but I’m due back on planet Earth.

Mind you, it might beat the alternative. I’m one of the few men alive who cuts himself with an electric razor. Whoever invented these useless devices was either a consummate practical joker or an employee of Bastards Incorporated. Let this be known: electric razors don’t work. Electric razors are like attacking your face with an orbital sander. Electric razors abrade the skin, making your cheeks resemble poor quality suede. Electric razors leave embarrassing patches of hair so that your chin looks like it has alopecia. Electric razors are the work of Satan.

Consider these statistics. The man who shaves daily has about 20,000 shaves to look forwards to in a lifetime. The latest in razor technology will set you back about $260 per year. Add the cost of shaving cream and that means about $17,000 over the course of a life. Wouldn’t you rather put that money into real estate?

No wonder so many men have stopped shaving on a daily basis. You can save yourself about $10,000 by shaving once a week. Unfortunately, it’s no good telling yourself that Brad Pitt or George Clooney look good with a five o’clock shadow. Brad and George also take home 40 million bucks a year and have the faultless jawlines of Greek gods. They’re not real people. You and I go a week without shaving and we look like dirty bums.

Shaving is ancient. Primitive man used sharpened stone tools to scrape away at his beard. In those days, shaving could be life threatening. One moment of lost concentration and you’d lose your lips. But has there been much progress?

There’s a new razor on the market that boasts of blades, sorry, “fins which are individually mounted on highly responsive springs … that automatically adjust to facial contours”. Yes, those fins adjust to and follow the rugged contours of one’s face with the dogged persistence of an Exocet missile. Problem is, you still cut yourself and you can still feel the hair left behind after it has “glided effortlessly” down your chin.

I suspect a sharpened piece of flint mounted on a stick would do a similar job. I can see the marketing now. “Genuine gnarled eucalyptus twig facilitator incorporating a retro blade crafted from a revolutionary piece of specially chipped stone.”

I like the sound of that. An honest shave. Who cares if my face looks like it’s covered in smallpox? Or should that be “knurled elustomeric crescents”?


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